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Avengers 14
"Even Avengers Can Die!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND March, 1965
Plot and Editing by Stan Lee
Script by Paul Laiken and Larry Lieber
Layouts by Jack Kirby
Pencils by Don Heck
Inking by Chic Stone
Lettering by S. Rosen

Picking up from the cliffhanger last issue, Giant Man rushes the injured Wasp to the hospital, with Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America following close behind. Thor muses that not even his alter-ego, Dr. Don Blake, is skilled enough to save her. The Avengers arrive at the emergency room, and turn the Wasp over to the doctors there. While they wait, the other heroes try to reassure the despairing Giant-Man.

The doctor returns with grim news. One of the Wasp's lungs is badly damaged, and on the verge of collapsing. Once that happens, her other lung will follow suit. He says that she has only 48 hours to live. Giant-Man refuses to believe it, and he seizes the doctor, insisting that he save the girl he loves. The other Avengers manage to calm their teammate down, and the doctor says that there might be one surgeon who can save her: Dr. Svenson, a lung specialist who lives in Norway.

Only Thor is fast enough to bring the surgeon back in time. Using his magic hammer, he flies across the ocean, passing jet planes as he goes. Thor locates Svenson's house, only to find the doctor unwilling to accompany him. He tells Thor to leave, or he'll be thrown out. In no mood for diplomacy, Thor simply grabs Svenson and flies him back to America. Svenson protests all the way, insisting that he's not the man Thor is looking for. And when they arrive back at the hospital, he says that he cannot help the Wasp.

Giant-Man loses his cool again and grabs Svenson, only to realize that the man is wearing a disguise. Underneath his plastic mask are the features of an alien creature. He claims to be from another galaxy, and says that the real Svenson is being held by his people somewhere on Earth. Before the Avengers can press him for further information, the alien begins to suffocate. Within seconds he is dead. The Avengers are baffled by this turn of events, and Giant-Man despairs, thinking that the Wasp is now surely doomed.

But the heroes aren't quite ready to give up yet. Searching the entire planet for a hidden colony of aliens is a daunting task, but they have to try. The Avengers split up, each employing their own resources. Giant-Man returns to his lab, where he is able to make contact with ant colonies all across the globe; alas, none of the insects have seen any sign of aliens. Meanwhile, Captain America rallies Rick Jones and his friends in the Teen Brigade to look for strange radio signals; again, without success. Iron Man launches a special Geiger-Counter missile to detect alien radiations, but to no avail. As the heroes gather back together, Thor reports that even the resources of legendary Asgard turned up no sign.

The Avengers realize that the aliens must be hiding in a location far from any civilization, somewhere even ants can't survive: The North or South Poles. The team pilots their high-tech aircraft into space, positioning themselves halfway between both poles. Thor's mystic hammer reveals that the North Pole is their goal, and the team races to the location.

There is no sign of the aliens on the surface, so they begin digging through the ice. Suddenly, the ground gives way, uncovering a deep pit. Making their way to the bottom, the Avengers are confronted by aliens wielding strange rifles. A shot from one of the guns causes Giant-Man to be encased in solid ice. But it will take more than that to stop the enraged hero; he quickly breaks free, and the Avengers soon defeat their attackers. Following the tunnel the aliens came from, they come across an entire underground city. Before the Avengers can make another move, the aliens fire another weapon at them, this time causing their very molecules to be paralyzed.

The helpless heroes are taken to Ogor, the leader of the aliens. He tells his prisoners that they are Kallusians, who once lived in peace in a distant galaxy. But they were invaded by yet another alien race, and the resulting war devastated their planet. The Kallusians fled, and eventually made their way to Earth, where they hoped to hide out while they regrouped their forces. They soon discovered that they could not breathe in Earth's atmosphere, and their own air supplies were dwindling. Luckily for the aliens, they were discovered by Dr. Svenson, who was able to create special face-masks that fed the Kallusians the "oxygen granules" they needed to survive. A disguised alien was sent back in Svenson's place, so that no one would miss him while he was working for the Kallusians. That's why the imposter died when his mask was removed; he couldn't breathe without it.

At this point, Thor leaps forward and grabs Ogor, telling the other aliens that they'd better free the Avengers, or else. Since Thor's molecules aren't mortal, he wasn't paralyzed by the beams the way his teammates were. He was just playing possum in the hopes of finding out where Svenson was. The Avengers are soon free of their paralysis, but one of the aliens makes a grab for Thor's hammer. He's unable to lift the enchanted mallet, but he does distract Thor long enough for Ogor to get free. The Kallusians attack en masse, but find that the Avengers are not easy prey. Giant-Man scoops up aliens by the handful and tosses them aside; Captain America confounds them with his acrobatic manuvers; Iron Man sends them spinning through the air with his repulsors; and Thor strikes the ground with his hammer, the shockwaves scattering his foes in all directions.

Suddenly, the battle is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Svenson himself. He tells both sides to stop fighting and insists that he is not a prisoner, but has been helping the Kallusians willingly. Even though they have powerful weapons that could destroy Earth, they have no interest in the planet, and only want to hide out here. The point soon becomes moot, however, because the enemies chasing the Kallusians have finally found them. One of their many probes arrives in our solar system, pinpointing the Kallusians' location and sending word back to the fleet. Ogor says that they will have no choice but to battle their enemies here, even though such a conflict would devastate the Earth.

Thor is having none of it; if the Kallusians want to wage war on Earth, they will have to fight the Avengers first. Ogor backs down, and promises that his people will leave the planet and fight their war elsewhere. He uses a device called a "matter displacer" to send the Avengers and Svenson instantly back to New York. The heroes rush Svenson to the hospital, where he prepares to operate on the Wasp.

Meanwhile, the Kallusians are boarding their spaceships and evacuating their hidden city, leaving the planet faster than any Earth radar can detect. After they have gone, another figure appears in the abadoned city: the mysterious Watcher. He ponders that, if it weren't for the Wasp's injury, the Avengers would never have discovered and driven off the Kallusians. In that case, the two alien armies would have fought on Earth, a battle that would have destroyed mankind. The Watcher departs to watch the outcome of the interplanetary war. As for the Wasp, he says that many have been praying for her recovery, and prayer is still the greatest power in the universe. And indeed, at that moment Dr. Svenson emerges from the operating room to tell the Avengers that the operation was a success. The Wasp will live.

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An unusual issue, in that the credits box is more crowded than the Avengers' roster! The credits list the guest-writers as Paul Laiken and Larry Lieber, but on the letters page, we're told that the script was by Lieber and Larry Ivie (Ivie is perhaps best-known as the publisher of the long-running fanzine "Larry Ivie's Monsters and Heroes"). I'm guessing that "Laiken" is a pseudonym for Ivie? Larry Lieber, of course, is Stan Lee's brother, and wrote quite a bit of stuff in the early days of Marvel, including the first Thor stories. The letters page also mentions that Stan wrote 6 pages of the story himself, and challenges the readers to guess which pages they were.

And on the art side, we have Jack Kirby returning to provide layouts for Don Heck. You can definitely see Jack's hand in here, with his signature exaggerated poses (like the dramatically-foreshortened Giant-Man on the splash page). Kirby was often brought in to do layouts for other artists, to demonstrate to them the kind of dynamic style that Lee wanted on the books. Perhaps Stan had been uphappy with Heck's layouts on the previous issues?

Speculation aside, it's definitely a tense and dramatic story, with the life of one of the team members hanging in the balance. Giant-Man seems on the verge of going berserk throughout much of the story; while a lot of that is just typical Marvel melodrama, it is interesting in light of later stories that showed him as genuinely unstable. Thor gets a lot of "screen time" this issue as well, with his magical hammer that can track anything on Earth (except when it can't). At one point, the hammer even "tingles" to warn him that Svenson is an imposter -- shades of Spider-Man! Captain America and Iron Man, on the other hand, are kind of played down. Cap had been pretty prominent since his re-introduction, sometimes threatening to take over the book. Perhaps Stan (or his two pinch-hitters) felt that Cap was now well-established enough that he could step back once in a while.

There's no real "villain" this issue; the Kallusians are more paranoid and contemptuous than outright evil, and the other aliens hunting them down are barely around long enough to register as a menace. The Kallusians' lizard-like enemies are never named, but they bear a striking resemblance to the Badoon, a race that turned up later in SILVER SURFER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY stories. I don't recall offhand seeing the Kallusians ever again after this story, but it wouldn't surprise me if they turned up somewhere; seems like every major and minor character at Marvel gets re-used at some point.

Wasp Watch: Jan is unconscious and out of action this issue, so nothing to see here. ;-)

The Mighty Marvel Checklist this issue includes FANTASTIC FOUR #37, SPIDER-MAN #23, X-MEN #10, THOR #114, STRANGE TALES #131, SUSPENSE #64, ASTONISH #66, and SGT. FURY #16

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- JKC -
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